We Are 'Lack of…….." …… AARRGGHH!!

Published on 2012-09-08

Source: David de Maus@flickrSEPTEMBER IS PROVING to be my busiest workday on record. Twenty one full day seminars basically means that I will be out in front of an audience on every weekday of this month. It is for this reason that I hope you will forgive me for keeping this month’s blog a little shorter than usual.
Like many ex-pats in China who were not sent out here by a company, but rather came to the Middle Kingdom on somewhat of a mission of exploration,  I started my life in Beijing as an English teacher (well, and an actor in television adverts, but that is a story for another time).  For this blog I shall put my teacher hat back on temporarily in an effort to correct one of the many commonplace mistakes that I hear on an almost daily basis.
Do I speak of the ubiquitous ‘he and she’ misuse? Am I referring to the ‘sentence structure lottery’ whereby verbs, nouns and adjectives are selected at random from mobile phone translation apps and then squeezed into sentences with no obvious connection to neighbouring words? No, and in fact until I can structure a faultless sentence in Chinese, you won’t read anything about those issues in any of my blogs.
The next couple of hundred words will be dedicated to a word which I hear daily but rarely hear used correctly. In fact, I have heard so many different attempts to use this word that I am surprised that, purely on a ‘law of averages’ basis, I do not hear it used in the right form more than I do. The word in question is………… LACK.
Now, ‘lack’ can be used in different forms and in conjunction with various prepositions. This is what makes it  difficult. So many options can easily lead to confusion. For this reason, I thought that I would set out a few guideline examples for you to use as you wish.

  • We lack/ She lacks experience
  • We are/ I am lacking in experience.
  • We are/ My company is suffering from  a lack of staff

At no point should we hear the phrase ‘We are lack of experience’ or ‘My company is lack staff”. These mistakes are so common that native speakers actually notice when you get it right rather than when you make the mistake. By using the word correctly your English level will appear more professional.
There is of course an even easier solution and that is to use more positive language. You can eliminate any danger of using lack incorrectly by simply not using it at all. Instead of telling us what you do not have, tell us what you need. Therefore, ‘I lack experience’, which sounds negative and may be perceived as a weak excuse for not taking on a challenge, becomes ‘I need to get more experience’ or ‘I want to gain more experience’. The latter two sentences are much more proactive and suggest ambition and drive.
So, stand out from the crowd by using ‘lack’ correctly, or use positive language instead and show your foreign managers that you are solution oriented. Either way you win.